Virtual reality, augmented reality and BIM tools have become staples during planning and construction of most large projects, but are also proving valuable in unexpected ways for those who get creative and resourceful with the data, according to leaders from Jacobs Engineering Group, Gilbane Building Co. and Windover Construction.
"While the focus of these applications has been visualization of and immersion in building design, a wealth of other utilizations for these technologies exists throughout the project and into facility lifecycle," Thomas Freed, program BIM manager of Jacobs, said during a presentation at the AEC Next conference in Anaheim, California, last month.
"It doesn’t have to stop there," he continued. "Data from BIM and VR and AR can be a huge value-add to your clients if you supply and make use of it."
Visualizing egress routes in augmented reality
As an example, Freed used an initiative the company is piloting at a recently constructed Jacobs office — a project on which the builder was also the owner. With a BIM model overlay, designers can walk through the finished building using AR software on a mobile phone or tablet to complete the punch list process and spot defects and clashes in real time. The data makes it easy to identify details that were missed and speed up the process of assisting in areas of concern, he said.
But after the building is complete, users can employ that same data and software to see a programed tool that displays arrows and other directional and informational material in front of their eyes as they walk through the finished building that will aid with practice egress runs and help identify any potential hazards. The result is a more immersive and practical means of navigating safety incidents that present themselves during occupancy than traditional paper and 2D diagram methods.
"Designers and architects can apply augmented reality to overlay designs directly into the project locations with clients, improving communication of the design intent through tools like Revit, Revizto and Oculus Rift, Hololive and Microsoft HoloLens," Freed wrote in presentation materials.
Tenants can also use that data for maintenance by looking at simplified 3D models captured during construction closeout through desktop software or through scan data completed during construction. Using an augmented reality headset, facility management professionals can see behind the walls, Freed continued. Using Jacobs’ construction data, they can even pull up information on appliances, lighting, materials and finishes for model numbers and other statistics that can speed up maintenance.
Visualizing building models in physical, 3D reality
Gilbane’s design team, on the other hand, has been bringing the concept of 3D technologies back to the physical world. 3D tech in construction typically means virtual modeling presented in a digital sphere either on 2D screens or in immersive 3D AR and VR. Gilbane’s virtual design and construction (VDC) team has instead found a way to print 3D models of structures being planned or constructed to display as scaled physical models for clients, donors and stakeholders.
"The next step is to mix some of this stuff — 3D walkthrough meetings and 3D printing of physical models with the detail in AR/VR."
VDC Engineer II, Gilbane Building Co.
"3D printing has exploded in popularity ... yet is only in its infancy in the construction industry," VDC Manager Ryan Shults explained. "The construction industry is typically still viewing 3D models in 2D, either on screen or on paper. Yes there’s 3D in BIM, but there are also ways to employ 3D in other ways."
The next thing people think of when they hear 3D printing in construction, he continued, is the nascent technology and hardware that allows for the automated "printing" of entire rudimentary concrete structures, for example.
Gilbane’s 3D printing, however, comes in the form of small models that have proven themselves extremely valuable. When planning a project, the team will sometimes print a large 2D blueprint, and then, using BIM models, 3D-print a plastic model to lay over top the map.
Project planners, construction managers and other stakeholders can visualize the final product, he said, meaning they can walk around the model and see physically where it will fall on the land plot in scale. Such models are not new in construction planning, but have been traditionally pieced together by hand laboriously, taking three times longer, Shults said, than Gilbane's more precise, automated process.
Trade contractors have especially taken to these models, Shults said, as they can also help identify where underground utilities are, for example. It’s an easy way to get everyone visualizing the final product to plan appropriate measures regarding their pieces of the puzzle.
But it’s been really useful for owners as well, he continued. On a high school construction project in Houston, for instance, the team printed 24 pieces in 17 individual print cycles to reflect each detailed phase of the project. The school board reviewed the model and after a tweeted photo of them doing so garnered a lot of attention, the process "single-handedly paid for the 3D printer," he said. "The positive effect of owners seeing the model in 3D justified all future 3D model printing for the team." The company has 11 3D printers.
On the same project, the team also celebrated big benefits from BIM through the form of AR. "A big donor made a six-figure donation to get his name on a school stadium after reviewing the 3D virtual model of the finished project through an Oculus Rift headset during the construction phase," said VDC Engineer II Josh Holmes. "The next step is to mix some of this stuff — 3D walkthrough meetings and 3D printing of physical models with the detail in AR/VR."
Visualizing unforeseen lighting nuisances
During the presentation, Windover Construction also shared an unanticipated benefit of BIM modeling from an owner’s perspective. Using data from authorized drone scans of the surrounding neighborhood, the firm created a virtual model to visualize the effects of lighting from a high school football stadium on neighbor’s residences.
"After finishing the stadium, we did a light-blocking study in VR modeling to realize that we needed to build a large physical screen to stop light from stadium from shining too brightly in neighbors’ yards," VDC Director Amr Raafat said. "It’s just one example of a benefit Windover’s BIM process can provide even after construction is done."